Well it is certainly not Julius.
Last night his expulsion from the ANC and the ANC Youth League was confirmed by the ruling party’s national disciplinary committee.
His ‘fixer’, secretary-general Sindiso Magaqa, was suspended for a year – making any attempt to ‘rule-by-wire’ difficult. The appeals committee chaired by Cyril Ramaphosa also confirmed the three-year suspension of the other key Malema ally, Floyd Shivambu.
Malema is out of the game and I don’t expect to hear much from his traditional defenders, Tokyo Sexwale, Thandi Modise, Mathews Phosa, Fikile Mbalula, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Tony Yengeni. They are going to be exploring other strategies … more about that below.
Malema has been sunk by a combination of his own hubris and of bad luck. He might still be greeted like a rock star by striking Numsa workers, but he just doesn’t have the gravitas to coalesce a radical alternative to the ANC around himself.
I expect he is going to be busy trying to keep himself out of prison on tax evasion and corruption charges for the next several years. It’s a stitch-up, but he has made so many mistakes that it has been a relatively easy one.
The strategy of his core group is going to have to be to make as much noise in the lead-up to Mangaung as possible. They are good at this, earning their colours in the trashing of Mbeki in the lead-up to Polokwane. But that time around they were coached and backed by Zuma and his cronies and by the SACP and Cosatu … which makes the Nkandla Crew’s huffy outrage at his conduct a little difficult to swallow … this time Malema and friends are on their own and their backs are to the wall. I cannot see them achieving a momentum that could realistically effect the outcome of the Mangaung contest.
So what could threaten Zuma?
The word on the street is that with KZN and the Eastern Cape wrapped up Zuma is unassailable going into Mangaung.
But Mangaung is a long way away and the street is not always right. Our TV screens have been resplendent with the big-boned ladies cutting Zuma cakes and singing Zuma songs – but in our parochial soap opera version of Götterdämmerung the chubbier maiden hasn’t even started singing. (Here is a discussion of ”it aint over till the fat lady sings”.)
I have assumed that the main threat to Zuma’s relection at Mangaung is the unlikely possibility of the National Prosecuting Authority reinstituting fraud and corruption charges against him.
This remains a threat, but a more serious and immediate one seems to be emerging around what appears to have been a widespread sacking by Zuma’s security chiefs of at least one secret fund allocated for clandestine anti-crime operations.
The tip of this iceberg is the accusation that crime intelligence boss and apparent Zuma ally Richard Mdluli had his children, wife and girl-friends listed as agents to be paid out of the fund.
The next layer of the iceberg sloshing at sea level is the accusation that police minister Nathi Mthethwa used the fund to pay for aspects of the renovation of his country home.
Below the surface is a looming mass of allegations that many, perhaps most, of the ANC security commissars – the closest of Zuma’s allies – have been using this and similar funds as automatic teller machines.
It is the fact that Richard Mdluli has been reinstated – despite these serious corruption allegations and even more serious allegations that he murdered a love rival – that rings the really big red alarm bells. I think Jeremy Gordin hinted the loudest and the most eloquently that it is definitely worth considering that the protection is coming from the very top and must be motivated by the possibility that Mdluli has the goods on Zuma … catch that story here.
There is no successful drawing of a link from this scandal directly to Zuma, but if I look at the renovation of his house and the character of the empire he is building in Nkandla I must wonder whether the proceeds of the looting of this intelligence fund – and of a host of other stores of cash dotted about the security establishment - have flowed upwards and if they have, how high?
If Zuma is derailed – and I have this as a “Black Swan” possibility only* – Kgalema Motlanthe is waiting in the wings. I am under the impression that the Motlanthe alternative is being deliberately kept alive and viable because of the real risks of the main candidate drowning in his own sleaze.
Of course there have been consistent attempts to flick dirt in the general direction of Motlanthe – and some of it has stuck … and some of that for good reason. He was central to efforts to secure oil allocations from Saddam Hussein for ANC donor Sandi Majali and ‘has never fully answered questions about his role in the Iraq/UN oil-for-food scandal as well as the Pamodzi loans, hoax emails and Bell Helicopter parts for Iran scandals/disputes’. There is a useful ‘dusting off the alternative’ article on Motlanthe in last week’s Mail and Guardian … catch that here.
(Note: I realise from the comments section below that it is possible to think that I am suggesting that the transmission mechanism by which such a corruption crisis could bring down Zuma is via a court case. That is not what I meant .. anyway that would take too long to play out to impact upon the process. Such a crisis could bring Zuma down by motivating a broad coalition of groups and individuals within the ANC – specifically those who have been backing Motlanthe, but with new anti-corruption allies … and ANC patriots desperate to save their organisation - to choose the alternative. I think there is much militating against this outcome, but I discuss that below.)
A Motlanthe alternative would be unlikely to risk its own credibility by treating Malema any differently from how he has been treated by the ANC disciplinary process.
The final line of appeal is to the National Executive Committee of the ANC – but there Malema’s potential allies need to concentrate on battles they can win … not on hopeless causes.
Looking towards a further horizon, perhaps 10 or 20 years on, no-one should be surprised to see Julius Malema – older, wiser and more dangerous – back in the game. His instinctive feel for the tactics of political mobilisation are unparalleled – it is his grasp of strategy and principle that have let him down this time around.
But for now the game moves on and our attention needs to shift away from the activities of those who wish the President harm and onto the harm he might do/have done to himself.
* A “Black Swan Event” is a metaphor developed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his 2007 book The Black Swan and refers to events with a disproportionately high-impact which are both hard-to-predict and rare.